Man beats child porn charges
Vernon man acquitted after judge rules search warrants were invalid — but he still faces multiple arson charges
A Vernon man accused of committing more than a dozen arsons in 2014 has been acquitted of child pornography charges after a judge ruled two search warrants used by police were invalid.
In June 2016, William Murray Phelps Munton and co-accused Jordan Holcroft were arrested in connection with a series of arsons in the North Okanagan between March and November 2014.
Following the arrests, Mounties conducted two searches, both of which Munton argued were invalid.
The warrant for the first search pertained to Munton’s residence.
Among the items seized were a Rubbermaid container, fire-starting bricks, a drone, computers, computer data, and electronic storage devices including CDs and memory sticks.
A second search warrant permitted police to search Munton’s and Holcroft’s cellphones, a memory card and an HP computer.
Investigators said they had reason to believe there would be images of the arsons on the cellphones and the computers.
Police allegedly found child pornography on the HP computer, which led to Munton being charged with two counts of making child pornography and one count of possessing child pornography.
For a warrant to be issued for the computer, there needed to be credible evidence that images of the arson would be found on the device, Justice Hope Hyslop wrote in her decision last week.
Munton argued police had no basis to believe any evidence of the arsons would still exist in his home at the time of the warrants in June 2016, and that it was “complete speculation” to believe any of the evidence of the offences would be found on the computers.
Hyslop agreed, saying there was no evidence any photographs were taken of the fires, undermining the police theory that images would be stored on the computer.
Hyslop concluded both the warrants were invalid and the searches were unreasonable and in violation of Munton’s charter rights.
“(Munton)’s rights were breached as his home was searched, his phone and HP were searched by an invalid search warrant,” wrote Hyslop. “All these are areas a person can expect a high degree of privacy.”
Both searches are now considered warrantless, said Hyslop.
“Without the evidence from the HP and perhaps other data stored on electronic devices, the Crown’s case was gutted,” she said. “As a result, (Munton) was acquitted on the child pornography charges.”
In this case, the police did not purposely mislead the judge who issued the search warrants, nor was there a lack of reasonable grounds for the search warrants to be issued, wrote Hyslop.
“What occurred here was a failure to articulate the grounds clearly.”
Munton is still facing 19 arson charges and is expected to go to trial this year.